A pain in the neck
Iím in my 58th year and I have a demanding job
that requires short periods of very intense working with
lots of stress.
Itís November 2007 and I have been so busy that the
toothache Iíve developed has had to wait. Iím thinking that
Iíve caused some of the pain myself as Iíve worked at least
two 18 hour days this week alone and Iím run down. Munching Paracetamol is the order of the day.
Seeing a quieter patch I booked myself into the dentist
which I really do hate. No surprise that it resulted in an
extraction. Better that than a filling as I am inclined to
run away from the drill. The pain went away for a day or so.
Iím still busy and the pain is returning. After a few days
itís full on again and already needs the maximum dose of
Paracetamol so that I can work. Iím just so busy, my
business partner is off on holiday and then first time I can
get to the dentist is the 23rd of December but I
must get something done before Xmas.
Itís a different dentist and I can tell he doesnít like the
look of what he sees and starts asking me a whole bunch of
questions about the symptoms. An impromptu conference is
held and I am advised that I will need to visit the
Maxillofacial department at the L&D and a letter was drawn
up for me.
Having now left the dentist Iím pretty sure
that I really must be in some kind of trouble. As its Xmas I
will try to put it behind me.
The rest over Xmas seems to have helped and I
feel pretty good but I'm still concerned.
I have turned up for my appointment on the 27th
of December and they have had a quick look at the problem. A
barrel full of questions and the advice is that a biopsy and
a scan is the order of the day. Following that I am to
return to the clinic for a diagnosis. At this time Iím
convinced that Iím probably in more trouble than I had
The biopsy has confirmed what all the
professionals already knew. There is a tumour on my jaw and
it is very much malignant, angry even, Urgent attention is
going to be required.
I have tried since to reflect on what I felt
like at the time. It wasnít really a shock as I had kind of
worked it out from the concern that was being shown for me
by the staff. I can remember wondering how the consultant
felt having to tell me that I had cancer. An appointment is
made to discuss my treatment.
My family knows that I am having
investigations but I have played it down and Iím sure the
severity is going to be a shock. I have attended the clinic
alone so I can pick the moment to tell others.
Iíve got five or six hours before my family
arrives back home. The burning question is where I shall go
to pause and set my head straight. Itís not every day I get
diagnosed with cancer.
Iíve jumped in the car and Iíve driven around
a bit and somehow Iíve ended up at the shopping centre. Iím
not sure why but anyway Iím in the queue for a large
Cappuccino with extra shots.
Iím now sitting on a bench watching the world
go by and reflecting on how bad my luck is at present.
Somehow the combination of the bustle and the extra strong
coffee has enabled me to reflect on my situation.
Iím not ill is my conclusion. I donít feel
unwell Iíve just got a bit of a toothache. In general I have
a strong constitution so if there is a way through this I
should be able to deal with it. My body is being invaded and
I have decided that I am up for the fight.
I have also decided that I donít want to be
around people who want to feel sorry for me. Iíve decided
that Iím happy to hear what the professionals think and Iíll
make decisions based on what they tell me and the research I
do. I have concluded that well meaning people with no
experience will only serve to sap my mental strength.
Iím not sure how long Iíve been here
ruminating but I have also decided that I had better
concentrate on this problem and try to fix it. In the order
of things to deal with itís probably the biggest one I have.
I have also concluded that this might be the
rainy day that I have saved for all these years so I resolve
to clear the decks of work and remove the stress.
Iím back at home now and I have sat down and
told my wife what has been discovered. I have also explained
as best I can that I donít want a whole bunch of people
ringing me and telling me how unlucky I am. Iím not sure she
understands my motivation but agrees anyway. She will tell
my Son who is 18 this year at a convenient time.
I canít help reflecting that I had private
health insurance up until the middle of 2007. The company
scheme closed and the new premiums were sky high because
they didnít want individuals.
With my wife in tow Iíve just met with Mr.
Chan (my consultant). Iíve been told that there is a cure
but there is a cost to that cure. What is proposed is to cut
my jaw bone away like a piece of timber infected with dry
Apparently there is a spare bone in my calf
they can harvest that can replace missing bit. They will
screw this in place with metal plates. Following that they
will take a flap of skin from my leg and cover over the
bone, all that in just 10-12 hours of surgery. At the same
time they will remove my Lymph Glands on that side which Iím
told is precautionary.
On top of this Iím to have a
tracheostomy which Iím told will be temporary to help my
breathing in case there are problems. Apparently lots can go wrong and itís going to
affect my speech, my taste buds. Pretty much all my teeth,
except those at the front, which I won't let go, will be gone.
Two consultant surgeons will be on hand, one
for demolition and one for rebuilding perhaps. Apparently
they will bring sandwiches.
Whilst my only experience of surgery was
having my tonsils out at thirteen Iím strangely detached as
I canít see any alternative. My only question really was to
get confirmation that it is a cure and not just maintenance.
I am advised that I may need Radiotherapy and
possibly Chemo depending on the analysis of the removed body
parts. Iím starting to get bored with the catalogue now and
I think that if I can deal with the surgery the rest is
probably not worth worrying about.
Iím told that they are looking to cancel a
couple of previously planned operations (sorry if you missed
operate on the 24th of January. Suddenly itís all
very real, I have a life threatening condition and to cure
that Iím going to have a life threatening operation.
There is a whole bunch of stuff that I have
to get done in order for the operation to take place. I need
blood tests, another claustrophobic scan, an iodine injected
scan, X-rays, blood tests and Iím going to need a feed tube
fitted as I wonít be able to use my mouth.
Iíve just met with the anaesthetist (Dr
Spears). She is assessing how much it will take to put me
out and keep me out for up to twelve hours and then to
maintain that till midday the next day.
Dr Spears tells me that they are going to put
a tube down my throat in order to fit the feed tube to my
stomach. I really donít fancy this and I tell her Iím not
sure I can cope with that. She tells me that the drug they
will use to
me will cause me to forget the whole procedure. ďYeah RightĒ
I think, Iím not sure I am buying that.
Iíve put myself on a diet that is full of
fish, vegetables, fruit, nuts, fibre and anything that can
be considered healthy. Iím taking
and keeping away from people as Iím paranoid Iíll get a cold
or flu and the operation will be postponed.
The diet is making me feel so well that I am
beginning to wonder if the diagnosis is correct. How come I
donít feel unwell? Its all very strange.
In my Head
Something has happened to me whilst I have
been focusing on the problem so intently. I seem to have
created a space inside my head where itís calm and insulated
from all the other stuff that goes on a round you.
The best description is that itís like a
field where you might walk a dog. Whilst there are people
around the perimeter and there are houses and roads close by
the centre is calm. So anytime I want to concentrate on the
problem I just move to this calm place.
I also seem to have been able to push the
boundaries of this space out little by little until I have
created quite a nice place to inhabit.
My first MRI scan wasnít a pleasant
experience. I wasnít aware that I was claustrophobic in any
way. I guess having my head fixed into place didnít help. I
wasnít advised that it would be best to shut my eyes so I
had to ask to be pulled back out to re-gain my composure.
To cope with the scan I ran and re-ran the
disassembly and re-assembly of the front suspension on my
BMW some thing I had done recently. Perhaps if Iíd been
better educated I could have run through the theory of
Knowing that the next scan was not going to
be the only mental challenge I had to face I decided I
needed a better plan.
I decided to explore this ability to create a
space and find a way to deal with the challenges so I made an
appointment with a Hypnotherapist. With just three days to
go before the pre-op Iím sitting in a chair explaining about
the space I have created and the challenge I am facing.
Iíve just been roused from hypnosis and I am
aware that I have been in an altered state. The object of
the exercise is to tie the space in my mind to a physical
place I like to go to.
I am now being taught a technique that allows
me to recall this pleasantly calm space very easily. All I
have to do is squeeze my ear lobe whilst I am experiencing
this calm space and eventually I will be able go directly
there just by squeezing my ear lobe. ďYeah RightĒ I think,
are you related to DR Spears?
The Hypnotherapist has sent me an MP3 file on
CD that he has made for me. Itís a twenty minute audio track
that is designed to help with healing. Itís certainly
calming and I find it hard to stop drifting off when
listening to it. Iím confident that it will help.
Surprisingly the ear lobe thing is starting
to work. Perhaps I will forget about the tube down my throat
Lets get the Show on the road
So here we are itís the 23rd of
January and Iím due to have the tube fitted today and then
roll on down to the ward for my pre-op and the surgery the
next day. Iím still apprehensive about the tube down my
Despite not looking forward to the operation
Iím even more apprehensive about having the operation
aborted for some logistical reason outside of my control. I
donít want to go through all this to get sent home again.
Lets Rock and Roll is my over confident attitude.
Itís the afternoon now and Iím on the ward
now in my new pyjamas feeling a little less confident. I
seem to have this feed tube poking out of my stomach.
did that get there?
God itís warm in here. I donít like central
heating at the best of times and this is just like a
punishment. Iím told I can have an anti room on my own which
would be just about right as I donít really want to
socialise and it has windows that open.
Iíve had the anti room for about 30 minutes
and Iím told itís no longer mine. Well you can shut your own
windows then. Iím back on the main ward now. Iíve come to
realise that I am have a problem with sick people and this
is not the best place to be with an attitude like that.
Iíve convinced myself that Iím not sick and I
just have a malfunction. The downside of that is my mind
tells me Iím in the wrong place and I might catch something
if Iím not careful. I take the sedative Iím offered, watch
some TV and squeeze my ear lobe for a bit.
I awake in the morning very early as Iím due
to start my operation at 8:30am. I just hope they have all
had their Shredded Wheat this morning.
The push down the corridors on the way to
theatre just isnít long enough for me and shortly Iím in the
holding area, frantically squeezing my earlobe, waiting to
go straight into theatre.
I donít remember a lot more after that except
Dr Spears approaching with a hypodermic.
Hopefully I wonít
wake up with another feed tube.
Itís now midday or so the following day Friday the 25th.
Blissfully unaware of everything I am suddenly jolted to my
senses. I have a tracheostomy connected to the oxygen pipe
and I swear someone put their finger over the supply
momentarily to bring me round.
I select a particular male
nurse and decided that he did it. Welcome to intensive care.
Apparently they want to move me onto a different bed. I was
quite happy on the one I had. The opiates I was full of
meant that I really didnít care anyway. I was struggling to
breathe through the tube and wrote a note to the nurse to
After drifting in and out of sleep Iím listening to the TV
which someone has put on for me. Itís Holby City or
something similar so I have to ask for it to be turned over
as I canít face a medical drama.
I have fired up my MP3 player and started to listen to1984
by George Orwell. About a half hour in I have almost
completely freaked out. The drugs seem to have made me
paranoid and I have to stop listening.
Later I try Animal Farm (again by George Orwell) and I stop
listening when I start worrying about what the animal might
do to me. Bromeliad by Terry Pratchett (which is about
elves) does exactly the same. I have given up on the MP3
books now and Iím looking for Hendrix and Flower Power tunes
on the player maybe that will suit the substances better.
Planning my escape
Itís now Saturday (as I recall) and Iím transferred to the
High Dependency Unit. Iím asked if Iíll try to get out of
bed and into a chair. This is the start of my independence
and Iím up for it.
Iím in the chair, which was easier than the physio
thought it would be, and Iím not going back to bed until
they force me. Itís easier
to breathe and as Iím full of phlegm, created by the
operation I guess, Iím happy to sit here even if the seat is
a bit hard.
Itís the start of three weeks living in a chair without
any sensible sleep. My mind has decided that the best way to protect me
is not to sleep. If I donít sleep they canít do anything I
donít know about. There is nothing I can do about it. There
is enough adrenalin being created to keep me alert night or
day. Iíve realised that Iíd forgotten to do the ear thing
since the operation
passed and Iíve been made to get back into bed
so they can take me down on the ward. No more special
attention for me Iím going to have to share nurses from now
To be continued Ö.
(Derek is currently back at work full time)